Nat Crawford Interviews IYE Tutor David M.
(Video and Full Transcript)

Nat Crawford: Hi. I’m Nat Crawford, president of Improve Your English Tutoring Services, and I’m here to have a conversation with David McCalmon, one of our tutors, about the results he helps his students accomplish in group classes for middle school students and one-to-one tutoring for students in middle school and high school.

I attribute this three-year improvement to the IYE summer class.

My daughter really liked the IYE summer group class with David. It was definitely
an adjustment to take a full-day class, but once she got used to the length, she enjoyed it.

She especially enjoyed having David as a teacher.

She enjoyed comparing themes and plots. It’s always fun to hear your child say that,
especially with more classic works. Schools do not usually teach classics, so I really
appreciate the opportunity for my daughter to study them. After taking the class, she
was more interested in reading independently.

I found myself buying her more books!

After the summer, she showed big improvements in her i-Ready diagnostic for ELA
(English Language Arts). The i-Ready allows students to take next-level questions. Last
year, at the end of her 6th-grade year, her i-Ready ELA score was early 7th grade. This
year, at the beginning of her 7th-grade year, she took the i-Ready and scored as early
10th grade. I attribute this three-year improvement to the IYE summer class.

She’s also improved in her CAASPP assessment. For the last couple of years, when she
did her CAASPP writing assessment, it took her a long time to formulate her ideas. By
the time she had formulated her thoughts, it was time to go home. Now she says it is
easy to write out the assignments in the time permitted.

After taking the summer class, it was much easier for her to write. In other classes
that she is taking, she now writes in complete sentences to answer questions. We had
worked on this skill before, but she didn’t make progress in it until she took the IYE
summer group class. The class really helped her see the importance of using complete
sentences because David explained to her WHY the incomplete sentences did not work
and why it was important for her to finish her thoughts.

K. W., Sunnyvale

David grew up in California. He has a BA with a double major in Modernist Literature and American History from UC Santa Cruz, from which he graduated with honors. David has 13 years of classroom teaching and tutoring experience. He taught college students for five years, and then in 2012 he started teaching school-aged kids. He has been with Improve Your English for three years, since 2016.

Since that time, he has taught many students one-to-one, and he’s also taught in our summer class program as well as our winter group class program.

I’m going to start off with your question about a one-to-one tutoring student. I was talking to a parent of one of your students whom I happened to bump into when I was in the office. He and his son had been working with you for about a month, and he told me, without any prompting: “Hey, I can see the improvement in just one month of work.” How did you help the students so quickly in one-to-one tutoring?

David McCalmon: With this particular student, we had started talking about his goals early on: how he wanted to improve his writing, and even with his limited knowledge at the time, having those goals in mind helped him. One of the factors is a passionate reading of the text. My love of literature transferred to him in the lessons, and we will often read aloud when we can. Immediate feedback on the writing also helped.

Nat Crawford: All right, great. One question that parents reading this are going to have is: what are the things that they can do to help their children benefit the most from group classes or 1-1 tutoring?

David McCalmon: Parents can really do a lot for their kids by just having a lot of books available at home to read. If there are a multitude of choices, if the books are kept any place where the child might relax, he’s likely just to pick one up as likely as anything else.

Fostering this love of reading in their kids is going to transfer over to their grades. It doesn’t matter that they read classics, I’d say. Classics should be read with tutors so that we can help them plumb the depths of meaning that each text affords. It’s really just more than enough that a student comes to love reading.

Nat Crawford: So, independently, they should be reading, on their own, the books that they want to choose. But if they really want to advance the depth and the complexity of what they’re able to read, it’s best for them to be reading classics with a tutor.

David McCalmon: Definitely. That’s not to say that they can’t gain anything from reading classics alone, but parents shouldn’t force it. Just encouraging students to read at home by having books available can really be an enormous help.

David is a calm, experienced and very thoughtful tutor. He’s very patient with my son
and very thoughtful and purposeful with planning the right lesson for my son.

Not only has my son improved so much with his English skills, but the most important thing is that he told me the other day: 'I love reading and writing now.' I know I have to give this credit to David. After talking to my daughter and learning about her thoughts, David made
some changes to the lesson and the homework plan.

The changes made a significant difference to my daughter’s learning. She seems more motivated and sees the purpose of the learning plan. Her mentor and science teacher at school sent me an email to affirm her improvement and progress. 'I just wanted to let you know,' he said, 'that your daughter made solid improvements on her written explanations. In our most recent science project, her writing was considerably more articulate and her word choice was more deliberate than her previous explanations.

Jeannie Lee, Sunnyvale

Nat Crawford: I experience this with parents all the time when they’re first getting started with their program. They’ll tell me things like: ”Yeah, I handed him a book by Charles Dickens and he wouldn’t read it.”

And then three months later the student is reading Charles Dickens with me, and he doesn’t have any complaints about what he’s reading. This is, again, the place where it really matters to have expertise and someone who can be enthusiastic about the book and really get at the deeper meaning of the book as well.

Nat Crawford: David, what made it possible for the student to show three years of progress after one two-week group class?

David McCalmon: Most English classrooms fail to teach kids at the level of their potential. My students invariably come to me when I first meet them with the same bad habits that teachers have either overlooked or neglected to point out. Students seldom receive immediate or thorough feedback on an essay. In my classroom at IYE, I review their work a paragraph at a time so that they can refrain from repeating their mistakes in subsequent paragraphs before they even finish an essay.

Furthermore, we write three drafts of each essay so that students can achieve a truly polished product. Going through this process helps students to learn from their mistakes and avoid repeating them. In addition to a closely supervised writing process, we read the classics.

Most teachers, programs, and schools teach students at their level or at grade level. “Good enough” isn’t in the IYE lexicon; we want our students to achieve at the highest levels. Exposure to Shakespeare, Greek myths, and classic English-language works like those of Mark Twain and Charles Dickens show our kids what’s possible in literature; reading these challenging pieces of literature with an expert IYE tutor affords them the opportunity to understand the literature and become impassioned about it.

Reading the work aloud and developing our inflection, our tone, and our diction as we do so reveals the power and beauty of these works so that students not only come to understand them but enjoy them. Finally, we study vocabulary in fun group activities, building a sense of camaraderie in the class that encourages them with positivity to apply themselves. Kids are born wanting to learn; they only stop when teachers fail to meet their potential or when they’re told that learning is a chore.

By affording them all the attention they deserve, offering the benefit of expertise, and demonstrating a passion for literature, we can often do in these intensive short group classes what standard classrooms have trouble achieving over the years.

Nat Crawford: Speaking of enjoying classics, when people walk by your classroom — and I’ve heard a couple of people comment on this over the summer — people would walk by your classroom and say things like: ”Wow! It sounds like there’s a lot of good stuff going on in there!” What are some of the things you do as an experienced teacher to make the class interesting?

David McCalmon: Since these classes are predominantly intense reading sessions, we focus on the reading itself. We try to bring out the dramatic tension in the reading. We talk about the inflection of the voices that each character uses and of each voice that each character uses. We actually practice acting out scenes from the books. Even when we’re not acting, taking a moment from the text to act with our bodies, we are acting with our voices as we read - reading for tone, reading for an inflection.

Reading in this manner really helps students to elevate their comprehension. If a student is just reading silently, especially alone, there’s really — I can’t even express what the odds are — little chance that they’re going to get everything inside a text. It’s going to vary with each child. Even with the most advanced students reading a text like the Odyssey, or reading texts like Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth, any Shakespeare text or even Charles Dickens or Mark Twain, there’s going to be lots of subtleties in the irony and humor in tone that students just won’t pick up without help.

Nat Crawford: These are subtleties that do not get picked up, for instance, by the plot summaries that you see online. When students are having difficulty, they might try looking at these plot summaries. Maybe they can get their quiz questions right in the high school class with 30 kids in a classroom, and the teacher can just give them easy questions to supposedly check their reading. But they’re not going to get the humor. They’re not going to get the irony, unless they actually read the story in depth.

David McCalmon: They’re not going to enjoy it either. If a student likes what he’s doing, then he’s going to do well. If you have an athletically inclined student, then he’s likely to do well at a sport he enjoys and less likely to do well at a sport that he doesn’t. Kids really need to enjoy it if they’re going to do well, I think.

Nat Crawford: Getting back into talking about one-to-one classes versus group classes: since you’ve worked with students in both, how do you see group classes and one-to-one tutoring complementing each other when it comes to student progress?

David McCalmon: The students that I’ve had the opportunity to witness coming out of this program have accelerated their trajectory. They have become interested readers, curious readers, showing an ability to grapple with texts instantaneously, whereas before they might have struggled in a text as though it were Arabic.

Nat Crawford: In one-to-one tutoring, students will typically cover about ten vocabulary words a week, if they’re taking one lesson a week. When it comes to these group classes, all of a sudden, you’re giving students a hundred vocabulary words to learn a week, and they’re actually getting it, which is really impressive. What is it that you’re doing to help kids learn a hundred vocabulary words in a week? It seems like a lot, especially for middle school students.

David McCalmon: For one thing, I don’t talk down to the kids. I treat the kids as completely capable individuals with growing brains. As such, they’re capable of learning that much in a week. Of course, we don’t do that in one-to-one tutoring because we can’t; they just have too much other homework. In a group class, students are able to assimilate this information, as we have eight hours a day.

Furthermore, we have group instruction each day and tests each day. We actually make this somewhat fun by testing them as a group together, and we’ll run a competition so that the students can call out the words and compete against one another. It serves as both a fun break from the text and from writing, where they can talk together and test their strengths against each other.

Nat Crawford: Do you ever worry that this competition is going to make kids feel bad if they’re not performing well in the competition?

David McCalmon: I really did when I started it. I needed a way that would be engaging for them to learn the vocabulary, rather than just leaving them at their desk to study it alone for however long at a time. As it turned out, all the students did so well that they didn’t really care so much about the competition. It was more about shooting their hands up and who could get the answer out first, or rather, whom I would call.

Nat Crawford: When it comes to writing, because writing is a part of this class as well, we’ve been talking about the reading, but students do daily writing assignments. They get feedback from you. What are the benefits that kids obtain from receiving immediate feedback on their work several days in a row, as opposed to doing an assignment at home and then having to wait a few days or longer, maybe even up to a week, in order to get your feedback?

David McCalmon: Students can really benefit from getting the writing back immediately because they can apply it again immediately. They can take it right into the next draft. They can write out, by hand, the next draft and then receive immediate feedback on that. When my one-to-one students take an assignment home, they’re typically doing one paragraph a week. We do that so that we can make sure that all the mistakes that they would make in an entire essay we catch right away in that first paragraph.

In class, I can say, “Okay, write this paragraph.” They’ll give it back to me, and then I give it back to them. The essay is done in a couple of hours. All of the progress that we make in over a month is covered inside of a couple of hours. Furthermore, the next day, students' first drafts of the new assignment are often dramatically improved from the first.